File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0112, message 122

Date: Sat, 22 Dec 2001 15:42:33 -0600
Subject: Re: Homo Prosthesis

Hugh wrote,

> So back to your question.  Yes for culture,  if that's the way you > want to define prosthesis.  Sticks and stones are tools for > hunter-gatherers. No, for language, unless there is some prosthetic  > device that makes a baby's first words.

My task is twofold here. One is exploring the meaning of the concept of
the cyborg in a more immanent fashion. For me that means we are always
already cyborgs once language and culture come to predominate. Yes, the
neolithic is already a cyborg and not only in the sense of Kubrick's
2001, although this provides a striking image. 

The other task is attempting to understand this concept within the
context of Lyotard's philosophy.

Regarding the first sense, yes I consider language to be just such a
prosthetic device. To speak in a banal way, Chomsky and others have
argued that there is a critical period in an infant's development when
he or she is ready to receive the implant of language. If this window
passes, as in the case of rare creatures like the "wolf boy", the
faculty of language may never be acquired. 

Furthermore, while this genetic set for the acquisition of language may
appear to be general, in practice it is always embedded in a specific
time, place and culture.  Thus it is simply not true to say we learn a
language. We always learn English, French, Chinese, Arabic etc. This
learning is prosthetic because it inscribes the infant with the
indelible marks of a tatoo and out of this linguistic matrix emerges a
"human" subject. To paraphrase Levinas, like the Hebrew Torah, this is
always done before we understand.

Consider what Lyotard says about this process.  

"It is not "I" who is born, who is given birth to. "I" will be born
afterwards, with language, precisely upon leaving infancy.  My affairs
will have been handled and decided before I can answer for them - and
once and for all: this infancy, this body, this unconscious remaining
there my entire life.  When the law comes to me, with the ego and
language, it is too late,  Things will have already taken a turn. And
the turn of the law will not manage to efface the first turn, this first
touch.  Aesthetics has to do with this first touch: the one who touched
me when I was not there."

This group has already discussed the concept of the cyborg as not merely
signifying the glitzy "Wired" standpoint of an uncritical masturbatory
technophiliac consumption or master race fantasies of transhumanism.

Another way to regard the cyborg, aside from the celebratory "I'd rather
be a cyborg than a goddess" is to see it in a somewhat more alienating
context as well.

We all bear the mark of cyborgian inscription and must testify to the
suffering this imposes on us. Paradoxically, by refusing to identify
with the process of humanism, by speaking for that which remains silent,
the figure hidden within the triumph of discourse, we also irrevocably
bear witness to our own indeterminate humanity. 

To be a cyborg also means to bear witness to the alien thought that
remains untamed within the global space of our megalopolis. The alien is
already us before we were born.      



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